I had a full career as an able-bodied actor for over 20 years, performing in everything from classics to musicals, and TV shows including Prisoner, Blue Heelers, Big River, Pygmalion, Buddy and Hotel Sorrento. I also worked as the main promotional voice-over artist for the ABC in Melbourne and have directed festivals for Melbourne Fringe, the Brisbane Festival and Opera Plus.
Then my life took an unexpected turn when I was diagnosed with HSP, eventually becoming a wheelchair user in 2006. It took time to adjust … years in fact. To grieve and adjust to my new identity and the personal losses it brought. I went through a separation that ended badly, friends left, the profession averted its gaze.
The hardest thing was suddenly being seen as incapable, sometimes by colleagues I had worked with for years. That hurt. But eventually I realised that I had a right to work in my profession. I began working back in mainstream theatre and television in 2016.
These days my passion for disability issues comes first in my life. I advocate for disabled performers on the Board of Arts Access Victoria and as Deputy Chair of Actors Equity’s Diversity Committee. I recently formed the disability-led theatre company Raspberry Ripple with the first production ‘Enunciations’ in 2016.
Hi Kate, your story is similar to mine in some ways. I’ve never worked in the theatre but HSP altered the course of my profession (visual arts). I had to give up work, while not in need of a wheelchair yet, and found my long-time wish for the time to ‘sit down and read a book’ had been granted. I started to write, there are three novels under way with one due for publication next year. I’m interested, and pleased, to learn about your advocacy for disabled performers. One thing in particular that you mention ‘a new identity’ I can relate to. I now use a mobility scooter for shopping, and some other walking aids, and have found that ‘people’ behave differently toward me – some shout when they speak to me as though I may not understand them. Fascinating really, HSP has taught me a lot. Thanks for telling us about you. Jill